Helpful Hints to Help You Sleep
Poor sleep habits (referred to as hygiene) are among the most common problems
encountered in our society. We stay up too late and get up too early. We interrupt
our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we overstimulate ourselves with
late-night activities such as television.
Below are some essentials of good sleep habits. Many of these points will seem
like common sense. But it is surprising how many of these important points are
ignored by many of us. Click on any of the links below for more information:
Your Personal Habits
Fix a bedtime and an awakening time. Do not be one
of those people who allows bedtime and awakening time to drift. The body "gets
used" to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively
fixed. Even if you are retired or not working, this is an essential component
of good sleeping habits.
Avoid napping during the day. If you nap throughout the day,
it is no wonder that you will not be able to sleep at night. The late afternoon
for most people is a "sleepy time." Many people will take a nap
at that time. This is generally not a bad thing to do, provided you limit
the nap to 30-45 minutes and can sleep well at night.
Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime. Many people
believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing
effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall,
there is a stimulant or wake-up effect.
Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. This includes
caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate,
so be careful.
Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime.
These can affect your ability to stay asleep.
Exercise regularly, but not right before bed. Regular exercise,
particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within
the 2 hours before bedtime, however, can decrease your ability to fall asleep.
Your Sleeping Environment
Use comfortable bedding. Uncomfortable bedding can prevent
good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem, and
make appropriate changes.
Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room
well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep
you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light
Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don't use the bed
as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body "know"
that the bed is associated with sleeping.
Getting Ready For Bed
Try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and foods high in
the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.
Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Relaxation
techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety
and reduce muscle tension.
Don't take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about job,
school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful
to assign a "worry period" during the evening or late afternoon
to deal with these issues.
Establish a pre-sleep ritual. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a
warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep.
Get into your favorite sleeping position. If you don't fall
asleep within 15-30 minutes, get up, go into another room, and read until
Getting Up in the Middle of the Night
Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find
that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within
15-20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed "trying hard" to
sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some
quiet activity, or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back
to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity
such as office work, housework, etc. Do not watch television.
A Word About Television
Many people fall asleep with the television on in their room. Watching television
before bedtime is often a bad idea. Television is a very engaging medium that
tends to keep people up. We generally recommend that the television not be in
the bedroom. At the appropriate bedtime, the TV should be turned off and the
patient should go to bed. Some people find that the radio helps them go to sleep.
Since radio is a less engaging medium than TV, this is probably a good idea.
Several physical factors are known to upset sleep. These include
arthritis, acid reflux with heartburn, menstruation, headaches and hot flashes.
Psychological and mental health problems like depression, anxiety
and stress are often associated with sleeping difficulty. In many
cases, difficulty staying asleep may be the only presenting sign of depression.
A physician should be consulted about these issues to help determine the problem
and the best treatment.
Many medications can cause sleeplessness as a side effect.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if medications you are taking can lead to sleeplessness.
To help overall improvement in sleep patterns, your doctor may prescribe
sleep medications for short-term relief of a sleep problem. The decision
to take sleeping aids is a medical one to be made in the context of your overall
Always follow the advice of your physician and other healthcare professionals.
The goal is to rediscover how to sleep naturally.
For more information or to arrange for a sleep consultation for adults, please call 410-706-4771. For children, call 410-706-3285.
This page was last updated: July 31, 2013